Thursday, January 22, 2015

Revisiting: Little Gems of Focus

I recently revisted David Foster Wallace's book of essays A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments to re-read the essay he wrote called David Lynch Keeps His Head, about hanging out on the set of David Lynch's Lost Highway. It was such a pleasure to revisit it after having watched Twin Peaks. DFW, was a self-admitted Lynch freak, and this article is thoughtful, funny and pithy. He talks about more than just Lost Highway though -- pretty much his thoughts on Lynch's work in general. This essay was originally in an issue of Premiere in 1996. I also noticed it gets quoted a lot in other articles I stumble on, usually in reference to helping define what "Lynchian" actually means as an adjective (and I'm paraphrasing DFW here): macabre but mundane irony, a deconstruction of a weird 'irony of the banal.' One example he gives is in reference to serial killers: Dahmer storing body parts in the fridge next to chocolate milk, that's pretty Lynchian, but Ted Bundy, well, not so much.

Things I loved in the essay: 
-Lynch's work is not quite art film (as a viewer, DFW explains, with art films you pay to get in and have to do then do some intellectual work, essentially paying to have to work). But Lynch's films aren't quite commercial films either (as a viewer for commericall films, you pay once to get in but have an unspoken assumed contract with the filmmaker that the fee you paid to get in is the only "price" you pay; you don't have to do any work.) DFW speculates that Lynch belongs to a third class of filmmaking that is more about just getting "inside your head," (p. 171) or as British critic Paul Taylor says, Lynch's movies are "to be experienced rather than explained" (p. 170).  I agree with this. I think about many of the dream sequences in Twin Peaks and the argument I have heard many people make, that what is really being communicated is a mood. Or something. Something that comes to mind in regard to this point is that I saw the Chicago premier of the documentary film about Lynch's 16 city speaking tour entitled Meditation, Creativity, Peace. In it, a student told him that while watching Inland Empire that once they dimmed down their conscious mind always trying to make sense of the movie, that they felt like they intuitively understood it more, and Lynch agreed that that is the best way to understand his films. I have a hunch that other people who work with him would agree. In fact, off the top of my head I'm like 77% sure I read a quote from Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost (from Reflections: An Oral History of Twin Peaks by Brad Dukes), where Mark Frost said something to the effect that Lynch is the master of communicating a mood. However, I should point out that DFW does say on page 161 of this essay "Lynch seems to run into trouble only when his movies seem to the viewer to want to have a point -- i.e. when they set the viewer up to expect some kind of coherent connection between plot elements and then fail to deliver any such point." I have a hunch that that may have been a criticism of both Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive, but it probably depends on the person.

-this quote, which appropriately (and you will see why this is appropriate once you read this quote) can be used about art in general: "Art, after all, is supposed to be a kind of communication, and "personal expression" is cinematically interesting only to the extent that what's expressed finds and strikes chords within the viewer. The difference between experiencing art that succeeds as communication and art that doesn't is rather like the difference between being sexually intimate with a person and watching that person masturbate. In terms of literature, richly communicative Expressionism is epitomized by Kafka, bad and onanistic Expressionism by the average Graduate Writing Program avant-garde story." (p. 199) YESSSSSSSSSS. Like good art says something universal. Bad art is so specific to that person that it's uninterestingly embarrassing. Quirky is OK, but there has to be something universal being communicated in spite of it.

-the fact that Balthazar Getty is sort of a douche, illustrated with examples

I loved all the little crystalized gems of insight David Foster Wallace had about how to perceive Lynch's oeuvre, things that I realized I kind of had been chewing on in the back of my head too, and it was nice to see it honed into well-articulated crystals of logic and wit.

And the snarky stuff was good too, because being snarky can sometimes really just be a slightly higher IQ version of gossiping. Which, I, um, well, looooooooved.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Working Through Low-Rent Schizophrenic Narrative Trauma With Fellow Fans

So I read Blake Crouch's first book in the Wayward Pines series entitled Pines. I read it because people I know who were into Twin Peaks talked about the series in that tone of "If you're into TP, you'd be into this." So I thought I'd give it a try.

At first notice, yeah, it's pretty Twin Peaks-y. Initially anyway. Once I got passed the "secret service agent who loves coffee traveling to a town in the Pacific Northwest to investigate a case," the plotline pretty much departs from similarities to Twin Peaks, and becomes more The Prisoner meets Cabin In the Woods. There's a lot of bits to the effect of And then he crawled slowly through the heating duct and the angry mob chased him and he fought gravity and sluggishly moved his bloody foot forward business that made me wish I was watching it on something I could fast forward through, what with all the tense descriptive moments, like if Dickens wrote a full fledged horror novel, with a an excess of it to where I felt my eyelids drooping.

Enough  "trying to escape" action already! I wanted something that was more interesting, that would develop the story more then just "guy trying to outrun some crazy people." I know the big thing is "show don't tell" but the Hitchcockian tension bored me. How about we change the "Show don't tell" writing policy to "show but then also sometimes tell more stuff, hopefully a little more frequently"?

In fact, when I was done reading the book, my husband asked me what I thought, and I started complaining that there were too many of those then he wedged himself between the wall and the dumpster to hide type of scenes. I tried to act out what I meant to help illustrate my point and my husband said I sounded like a drooling caveman. I think that's a pretty good indication of the mood of some of the bigger chunks of the book. It moves slow, sort of like a drooling caveman at times, communicating very little other then "ME STRUGGLE." The big explanatory ending could have come a lot sooner. Yeah, yeah, I know you have to "earn" the big reveal but the journey at times kind of made me feel like I was pulling a bag of wet rocks uphill. This would have been more enjoyable to me as a novella instead of a 300 page book, but then apparently, I am a cave woman with a short attention span.

All of that being said, complaints aside, there are some really interesting developments in it that unfold and make it interesting that, I imagine, will be more interesting in later books in the series that I will get to eventually. I just well, SPOILERS, people.

I'm curious how it will translate to a TV experience. That is, because FOX is making a Wayward Pines TV show with Matt Dillon, and it seems like there seems to be some public cynicism about it being a Twin Peaks rip-off.
TOTALLY INTENTIONAL, right? Right? Please say it is intentional. Is this the part that's homage?

I don't want to be one of those people who's all WELL I READ THE BOOK THE SHOW IS BASED ON and but well, I did, and the second book is on deck. It wasn't until I got to the author's Afterward that I got some confirmation for his Twin Peaks love, which warmed my heart (and confirmed my suspician). He wrote about how Pines was inspired by his love for Twin Peaks, and it occurred to me that he probably intentionally put that at the end of the book instead of in a preface in the beginning. I assumed that he didn't want people cynically thinking he was ripping off Twin Peaks when they first cracked open the book, and somehow if they'd already read the book, the Afterward would illuminate the reading they already did instead of inform what experience they were supposed to have while reading it. He writes, regarding Twin Peaks:

"Shortly after the show was cancelled, I was so heartbroken I even tried to write its mythical third season, not for anyone but myself, just so I could continue the experience."

This is adorable to me, that Mr. Crouch was basically writing fan fiction to continue the series that aired when he was twelve. I loved that he did this. He did also say in the Afterward that it has taken twenty years to create something (this book) that makes him feel the way TP made him feel, and that though he doesn't want to suggest it's as good as TP, he did want to express how much the show inspired him and that it wouldn't exist if it weren't for TP. So I'd like to think Wayward Pines isn't a rip off of Twin Peaks, but neither is it a tribute to. I think it's enough just to say it's "inspired by." Nothing wrong with that. But I guess I'll have to read more books in the series and see how they make the show to really judge that. I reserve the right to change my mind but I want to give the benefit of the doubt, especially from one TP fan to another. Mr. Crouch also wrote, "They say all art-whether books, music, or visual-is a reaction to other art, and I believe that to be true." I also agree. This thought makes me feel better about the kind of creative stuff I do, which is essentially reacting to other people's work by sort of mentally chewing on it, which is a valid form of, well, art. The art of criticism.

There seem to be a lot of posts on the internet that imply that in making a Wayward Pines series, FOX is trying to capitalize on the success of shows like True Detective (which is actually on HBO). Sure, money moves a lot of the decisions made for television, but in terms of the artistic angle, it is really Twin Peaks that is the bigger influence. That is to say, Twin Peaks is the real historical influence on shows like True Detective here, just like the many of the obvious descendants of Twin Peaks that many people seem to agree that might never have existed if it weren't for TP (X-FilesLostNorthern Exposure, etc.).* Maybe FOX wants to "cash in" but I wonder how that matches up with the folks who actually write/direct/produce the show? Blake Crouch writer of the novels? M. Night Shyamalan who adapted it for TV? Creator Chad Hodge? Honestly, I ask these questions but truthfully, I don't really care. If I enjoy Wayward Pines as a TV show then I enjoy Wayward Pines as a TV show. All of that being said, I know how people are. They'll say "Oh, it's just a rip off of Twin Peaks" but then also watch it and secretly like it, the way you would if you like a certain band you probably like other bands that sound like it. So there's THAT.

More importantly, I totally understand Mr. Crouch's angle from his Afterward of wanting to relive the Twin Peaks experience so much that he created an addendum to it in order to continue capturing the magic of it. Trying to prolong the ending of that world one is immersed in is what fan fiction, Harry Potter amusement parks, comic cons and cosplay are all about, which is pretty awesome. Even though I came to Twin Peaks much later then Blake Crouch did, who watched it in its original run, I can understand what he means when he talks about the devastation he felt when the series ended. When I read that he felt devastated when Twin Peaks ended, it was like he read my mind. I too, was deeply shattered by the end of the show.

When I run into people who have seen Twin Peaks, I want to talk with them about it,** because I feel like I'm on an island with my thoughts about things that happened on the show as if they were real life events; I have a little bit of a PTSD thing going on, and I'm looking for someone to talk to about it, in a sort of therapy kind of a way. It's kind of a low-rent schizophrenia, a form of not being able to distinguish between fantasy and reality, but only on a purely emotional level. I feel a little bit like a victim of some kind of trauma, and then I'm relieved to meet someone else who went through what I went through. I just know they'll understand me! And that's what I feel like fan fiction or fan communities are -- (besides a way to continue on the narrative of a departed show) -- a support group for having gone through the trauma that is the internalization of the show's narrative. Not only was I traumatized by the events of the show, but then I was equally as traumatized just by the fact that the show ended, as we always are when a show you love ends, especially if you've been binging on it at once as I did on Netflix. It feels a little bit like being dumped. I think that's part of the appeal of conventions for things that have been cancelled, like Twin PeaksFirefly*** and so on. Sure, conventions are a place where you meet people who are into what you're into, but it's also a place where you meet people who have gone through the same sort of "narrative trauma" that you've gone through. You cannot imagine the exhilaration I felt when they made the big "we're making more Twin Peaks" announcement last year. Like many other fans, I felt "Maybe I'll get some closure!" I just hope nothing happens to me before they release it in 2016!

Some them footnotes from above:
*Would TP have existed if it weren't for The Prisoner?
**I've written a variation of this point in Xerography Debt before.
***Fans wrote letters about both TP and Firefly such that TP had a second season and Firefly made a movie! Right? I have my info on that right, internet? Correct me if I'm wrong (oh, I'm sure you will).